The Reverend Dr. Lillian Daniel
Easter Sunday, March 23, 2008
First Congregational Church,
Introduction to the Scripture:
There are four different versions of the resurrection story, each of the four gospels tells the story slightly differently. And yet the people who put the Bible together allowed these inconsistencies to remain side by side. I think they thought that thinking Christians could handle it. Another reminder that while the Bible is to be taken seriously, it is not meant to be taken literally.
So if we take the Bible seriously, we take these little differences among the gospels seriously as well. We ask ourselves, which of the peculiarities of this story matter? What’s the lesson in this version for us today?
So today as you here the resurrection story from the gospel of John as yourselves these questions. Who is the main character in this story? Who gets to see Jesus first? And who does not? And why is that?
Scripture: John 20:1-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Mary Magdalene took her time. She was lost in the long winter of her grief. Like the ice that surrounded us this winter and seemed as though it would never melt, so was her sadness. She was not in a rush. In every gospel, she is at the empty tomb, a key figure whose attendance remains undisputed. She was there and she stayed and she met the resurrected Jesus.
The other disciples in this story, Peter and John, were in a hurry. So much in a hurry, they actually raced to the tomb. Raced each other, to see who would get there first, and that gets recorded in scripture. John was the winner.
At least John was the winner in the gospel of John, the gospel of his followers. The winner gets to write history. These little quirks in the gospels remind us that the Bible is God’s word mediated through some real human personalities.
But even in John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene, Jesus’ friend, is the most important character. After the two disciples have rushed in and then rushed out again, she remains behind. She spends some time in the empty tomb. She spends some time crying. It is then that she sees Jesus. At first she thinks he is a gardener, because he looks different.
The resurrected Jesus looks different in all the appearance stories. He was not immediately recognizable to those who ran into him after Easter, even to his closest friends. They had to stop and spend some time with him, and then after that, they recognized him; but it took a little time.
Time is something we are not very free with, in our society. We hold it pretty close. We are careful where we spend it. I think we are freer with our money than with our time. We will spend money on silly things, but when you ask someone for their time, they hesitate. They feel the need to tell you how little of it they have. The only socially acceptable answer to the question, “How are you?” has become, “Busy, I am so busy.” “How are the kids?” “Oh you know, busy.” “Mom, can you …” “No, I’m too busy.” “How’s retirement treating you?” “Oh, I’m busier than ever.” To which our societal chorus responds, “Good.” — As if being busy is a sign that life is as it should be. Busy means productive. Busy means your kids are successful, after all, you have to play a lot of sports and musical instruments to be busy. You have to have an important job for it to keep you busy. You have to be a superhuman parent, the most devoted kind, to be busy.
Heaven forbid you not be busy.
Hogwash. This Easter, I am declaring a war on busy-ness. I want to burst the busy-ness bubble. I want to say a few words that nobody admits to in our busyness-worshipping society, but they may ring true to you as people of faith, even to those of you too busy to hear it.
First, a lot of the things that keep us busy are not actually important. They are not important, but they are things that we are used to doing, and so continue to do, without actually stopping to ask why.
I remember once when I was complaining about being busy, a wise person asked me if I had ever done a time exercise. He suggested that I first write out my values, my general philosophy about what I wanted to spend my time on.
You can imagine the categories: Time with family, friends, helping others, sharing the gospel, serving the community, working, exercising, praying. What would your categories be?
Then, this exercise demanded that I sit down with my calendar and look at the last three months of my life, and mark each hour I had spent in any of those categories.
At the end, I was supposed to rank the categories in order of the time I had actually spent in them, and see if there was a disconnect.
Well, there certainly was. For one thing, I hadn’t even thought to have one of my categories be watching television, but according to my calendar it was one of my core values.
If you asked me if I appreciated nature and God’s creation, I would have said, yes; and if you asked me how important I thought sitting in front of a computer is, I would say, not very – but my calendar told a different story. Try the exercise yourself, it is jarring, especially to those of us who think we know ourselves. Engaging time, really looking at how you spend it, is a profoundly spiritual issue, and so we should engage it spiritually.
Do not, for example, as people of faith opt for a secular solution like time management. Time management, as an expression, says a lot; because, who really manages time? Not human beings, but God. God created time, and he didn’t create time for us to manage. He created time for us to appreciate.
So the first shift might be from time management to time appreciation. What would our calendars look like if we viewed time not as something to be managed but as something to be cherished?
Mary Magdalene learned this lesson the way many of us learn it. She learned to cherish time when the person she most wanted to spend time with was gone. Jesus had died so unfairly young, and Mary, along with all the disciples, must have been performing her own version of the time exercise.
Lost in the long winter of grief, they asked: did we spend our time with Jesus wisely? Did we talk about the right things, the most important things? Which category did the hours fall into? If we could have more time with him, what would we do now? Unlike most of us, Mary had her chance to do more than imagine that. In the resurrection, Jesus truly returned to her. Peter and John rushed off; they had news to spread. They were busy; but Mary had taken time simply to sit in the grave, to sit in the moment and grieve. She got more time, but let’s remember the reason she got that time with him is that she gave that time to the moment.
The promise of the resurrection is that we will get more time. We will get it on the other side of this world. We will live again, and see each other again, and know God and all the answers to our questions. That is the promise; but in the meantime, shouldn’t that good news affect the way we live while we’re still here on earth?
Busy, busy, busy. What if being busy is keeping us from our most important work, which is loving one another?
In the empty tomb, Mary found Jesus. In the empty spaces, may you find him, too – in the people you love, and in the time that you have been given.
Let’s stop managing time, and instead appreciate it, as God’s gift. No more time management – only time appreciation.
No more busy, busy, busy – just thankful, thankful, thankful.